Yersinia infection - including symptoms, treatment and prevention

Yersinia infection (yersiniosis) is a bacterial infection of the bowel (intestine) usually caused by Yersinia enterocolitica. It occurs worldwide, but is fairly uncommon.

Yersinia infection is a notifiable condition1

How Yersinia infection is spread

Many domesticated and wild animals carry Yersinia in their intestines. Spread to people occurs by eating food or water contaminated by infected human or animal faeces. Contact with infected pets and domestic stock may also cause infection.

Yersinia is able to multiply at temperatures in normal refrigerators, so sometimes if meat is kept without freezing large numbers of the bacteria may be present.

Yersinia is also occasionally transmitted by blood transfusion as it is able to multiply in stored blood products. This is why people are asked not to donate blood if they have had diarrhoea recently.

Signs and symptoms of Yersinia infection

Symptoms vary with age and are commonest in young children. They include:

  • fever
  • diarrhoea, often bloody in young children
  • abdominal pain and cramps
  • symptoms similar to appendicitis in older children and adults
  • joint pain occurs in half of affected adults.

Diagnosis of Yersinia infection

The diagnosis is usually made by a faecal specimen or by detecting Yersinia using a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test in a pathology laboratory.

Incubation period

(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)

Symptoms typically develop 4 to 7 days after exposure.

Infectious period

(time during which an infected person can infect others)

Usually 2 to 3 weeks. If not treated with antibiotics, the organism may be shed in the faeces for 2 to 3 months.

Treatment for Yersinia infection

Effective antibiotic treatment is available.

Prevention of Yersinia infection

  • Exclude people with Yersinia infection from childcare, preschool, school and work until there has been no diarrhoea for at least 24 hours. If working as a food handler in a food business, the exclusion period should be until there has been no diarrhoea or vomiting for 48 hours.
  • Infants, children and adults with Yersinia infection should not swim until there has been no diarrhoea for 24 hours.
  • Cook all meat thoroughly.
  • Good food handling procedures should be followed.
  • Follow good hand washing and keeping areas clean procedures.
  • Wash hands after contact with farm animals, pets, animal faeces or animal environments.
  • Do not drink unpasteurised milk.
  • anyone with diarrhoea should avoid swimming in pools
  • babies and small children without diarrhoea who are not toilet trained should wear tight fitting waterproof pants or swimming nappies in swimming pools and changed regularly in the change room. When faecal accidents occur, swimming pools should be properly disinfected.

Useful links

1 – In South Australia the law requires doctors and laboratories to report some infections or diseases to SA Health. These infections or diseases are commonly referred to as 'notifiable conditions'.